- by Q.D. Tran
“Philly guy Nick Millevoi always seems to be in the middle of something interesting - saw him do a lovely solo show a couple weeks ago.” That was a quote from our interview withNotekillers’ David First when we picked his brain about whom he was currently into at the time. How true that statement turned out to be! I had already heard of Millevoi from his work withMake A Rising (who were actually The Deli Philly’s first Featured Artist(s) of the Month). He’s working on a new project with trombonist Dan Blacksberg as the duo Archer Spade and still pushing the boundaries of improvisation with his avant-garde punk-jazz trio Many Arms (Engine Records, Majmua Music). Well, he also has his new solo album of 12-string guitar compositions coming out in April titled Black Figure of a Bird. The 6-song EP will be released by DC's New Atlantis Records and Sunmagi Records as the first of a series of three collaborative releases which also includes efforts from Peter Brotzmann and Han Bennink, and Jason Ajemian. Black Figure of a Bird really spotlights this shredder and master craftsman making a statement while finding his own sound. He’s having his CD release party this Thursday, March 31 at The Marvelous. We had a chance to catch up Millevoi to talk shop and the absurd (or is it?). Find out why he thinks there is a very good chance we’ll have more hard proof in the next few years that aliens have lived among us (if they aren’t still living with us now), what cover song guided him down the path to his obsession with the guitar, why he thinks The Edge is the most overrated guitarist in music history, and much, much more.
The Deli: What made you want to play a 12-string guitar?
Nick Millevoi: About a year and a half ago, I had been listening to a lot Pharaoh Sanders and thinking about how huge his tenor sax tone is, and I wanted to figure out a way to get a bigger sound out of the guitar that didn’t mean using more pedals or more amps. A friend offered to lend me his 12-string electric, and I found exactly what I was looking for!
TD: What inspired you to do a solo album of 12-string compositions?
NM: I think it’s important to play solo music, which is something I had been reading Anthony Braxton talk about a lot. I love so much solo music, so the time came that I thought I should make my own contribution to the body of experimental solo guitar music. I had been working on developing my own solo vocabulary but felt like I had a final hurdle to cross before something came to fruition. There’s something about the 12-string that immediately spoke to me and I just started to write, and once I started to experiment with alternate tunings, all of the music that is on this album came about quite quickly.
TD: Was there much cutting and pasting or overdubbing with this album or was it basically Eric Carbonara hitting the record button while you just play your ass off?
NM: This album was all recorded live. Eric had a really good vision for how to record and set everything up, and I just sat in the room and played everything a couple of times until I was totally exhausted!
TD: You’ve certainly been involved with many projects. What do you find most enjoyable about the collaborative process?
NM: The most enjoyable part of the collaborative process is having other people involved shaping what is being created. For example, I play in a duo with trombonist Dan Blacksberg called Archer Spade where we compose in collaboration using extended and non-extended techniques of both of our instruments. We work best this way because we both offer such intimate relationships with our instruments that we need to rely on each other to work things out. In Many Arms, a lot of the fruits of collaboration come about from pushing each other in improvisations where the group interaction keeps getting more intense, going longer, faster, and the energy keeps going in a way that no one of us can control.
TD: What do you like best about doing a solo project?
NM: I really love the sound of an unaccompanied guitar so for me, this is just another case of making music that I’m really excited about!
TD: What’s the most challenging thing about a solo project?
NM: I’ve been trying to play solo guitar music for a long time now, but in the past few years, I’ve been really inspired by reading about Anthony Braxton and his solo saxophone music and listening to people like Eric Carbonara and Joe Morris, who both have totally singular solo guitar sounds. I think the hardest part has been looking at music like theirs that’s so individual to the people creating it and trying to figure out what kind of statement I was trying to make.
TD: Why did you name the album Black Figure of a Bird?
NM: It’s a reference from the great noir novel The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. A lot of the imagery I associate with the music on this album is based on noir films, sci-fi, and outer space.
TD: What would you like someone to takeaway from the album after listening to it?
NM: Some kind of feeling of catharsis, maybe more energy. Also, if people listen loudly enough, I’d expect their ears to ring.
TD: Do you prefer playing a 12-string or 6-string guitar, and why?
NM: I don’t have a preference. They’re both really different in terms of color, so I use them each in different settings. Right now I’m using the 12-string for my solo compositions, but still mostly using 6-string for solo improvisations. Both are really great for high energy group playing though. I think the 6-string is probably more direct in that context, and someone just told me that the 12-string sounded scary after a Many Arms set.
TD: Please name a 12-string guitarist that we should check out.
NM: Arto Lindsay is my favorite 12-stringer.
TD: Who do you think is the most overrated guitarist in music history?
NM: Probably The Edge. I just watched that movie It Might Get Loud. I thought it was lame, but since I teach guitar, I felt compelled to check it out. The Edge spends more time talking about his effects than guitar, and there is a scene where he goes outside to play guitar, and he has to take his effects rig with him. I don’t think that should really count as playing guitar. I remember reading a Keith Richards quote where he said any good song should work on acoustic guitar, and I think that works for what he was talking about, but maybe not for all music, but I will say I think if you’re a guitarist, you should at least be able to make music with just a guitar.
TD: Who do you think is the most underrated?
NM: I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone seriously talk about Ronald Jones, who was a member of the Flaming Lips in the nineties. He plays one of my 10 favorite guitar solos on the song “The Abandoned Hospital Ship”. It totally rips a whole in the fabric of the song! I’m not sure I’m ready to say he’s the most underrated guitarist in music history since his output is so minimal, and I’m really only basing it on one solo, but he was certainly capable of greatness. Also, Jerry Garcia is certainly a revered guitarist, but I think a lot of people, particularly in experimental music, write him off because of his stereotypical fans and what the Dead became in the eighties and nineties. His sixties and seventies output is definitely some of the greatest rock guitar playing that exists.
TD: What was the first cover song that you ever learned to play on the guitar?
NM: I started learning guitar because of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, but it was too hard for me back then, so the first song I really got into was “Come As You Are”.
TD: We all know that guitarists can sometimes be show-offs and wankers. What do you think is the cheesiest guitar move that you secretly enjoy seeing live?
NM: Whammy bar dive-bombs on a Floyd Rose, which is an awful type of bridge system on shredder guitars that nobody should ever buy. When I hear one, I do get a bit jealous that none of my guitars can do that. Especially when they bring it back into a harmonic or a sweet high note.
TD: I thought that I read an interview where you said that you believe in aliens. Is that true? If so, do you think alien astronauts/ancient aliens existed?
NM: Totally true. I believe in the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life. I try my best to remain skeptical about their current involvement on earth, but there is a lot of evidence that can’t be argued away. I think there are really convincing arguments for ancient aliens, but so much of it is sensationalized so people can feel comfortable convincing themselves it’s not true. I think there’s a very good chance we’ll have more hard proof in the next few years. It’s quite chilling to think about.
TD: What is your favorite thing to get at the deli?
NM: Whitefish salad on a poppy bagel with lettuce and tomato.